Howard Jones Brings New Collection, Approaching Humanity to Buffalo
Wed July 6, 2022 8:40 AM
Preview by Joshua Maloni
To the titles attributed to Howard Jones – new wave icon, pioneer of synth/electronic music, hitmaker of the 1980s – we can now add humanitarian.
For the past seven years, Jones has embarked on a mission to make the masses more manageable – that is, he tries to spur specific actions with his words.
“’Engage’ (2015) was really about not being a spectator. Don’t be someone who sits in the background and watches. Get involved in your own life and in the bigger picture, in the world. Don’t just watch it from the sidelines,” Jones explained in a recent phone interview. “And then ‘Transform’ (2020) you know, if we want to change the world, then we have to start with ourselves. You have to change the way we see ourselves, respect ourselves and work on the negative sides of ourselves that set us back.
“And then ‘Dialogue’ (2022) is kind of more like thinking like it’s only what we can do as human beings, you know? We can actually talk to each other; we can exchange ideas; we can discuss our differences; we can sympathize with each other’s difficulties and problems – and isn’t that amazing? Let’s not just hold everything back; let’s talk about it and discover our common humanity.
“Then the next one (‘Global Citizen’) is going to be how do you put all of these things into action in the real world? And that’s being a global citizen aware of the big picture. We are one world, and what we do here affects everyone.
Jones will visit Buffalo on Thursday night with songs from this collection – and some well-known favorites (“New Song”, “Things Can Only Get Better”, “Life In One Day”, “No One Is To Blame”, “Like For Good know you” and “What is love?”). He is the headliner of an 8 p.m. concert at Asbury Hall.
The musician, who in recent years has had singles included in “Stranger Things” and “Bumblebee,” recently discussed hitting the road again with a major tour after the two-year pandemic. Jones also shared his thoughts on creating new music and a magical flying piano.
An edited Q&A follows.
Howard Jones returns to the Buffalo stage this Thursday. (Art: Steg Read. Graphic design: Steve Cripps. Image courtesy of www.howardjones.com/gun media hired)
Q: What do I see about you taking delivery of a piano in the sky? What is all this about?
Howard Jones: (Laughs) I just received delivery of a new Steinway. I’ve had a Steinway since 1989, I believe. And so, my old concert grand piano is auctioned at the end of (June), and I get this new piano.
And the new piano is amazing because it has this facility that when you play stuff on it, it can play it back to you exactly the way you played it. And then you can edit it with an iPad. And so, for me, it’s like a combination of all my programming skills and my playing skills showing up in this amazing brand new Steinway piano.
I’m so excited about this. I can not tell you. I can’t wait to go home!
Q: You’re definitely not going to ride a Steinway up the stairs, are you?
Howard Jones: (Laughs) It’s true. When you see the video of it coming in, it hangs above the house. There’s a balcony and there’s a door, so it goes into my studio over there; so it’s safe in there now.
I played it just before leaving, and it’s just amazing. I am very happy.
Q: Before the pandemic, I saw you open for Barenaked Ladies at Artpark, then I saw you headlining a show at Fallsview Casino. We’ve been lucky enough to have you this way a few times over the past few years.
We’re right on the border – so you get Canadian fans at these shows; you get American fans at these shows. But beyond that, is there anything about this area that sets you apart and makes it a place you love to visit?
Howard Jones: I like the idea that people can, relatively easily now, cross the border. And as you say, American fans and Canadian fans come to the concerts, whether it’s across the border or on the American side. And that still makes it very exciting, actually, because some people go to another country to hear the concert.
And I lived in Canada as a kid, between 9 and 14 years old, so I have a strong connection to North America. And my parents used to drive us to Niagara. So, it’s one of those parts of the country that I have a childhood connection with.
Q: Both shows were great. it didn’t matter if you opened for Barenaked Ladies or headlined your own show. I can tell you that, certainly, the fans of these shows were not disappointed to hear your hit songs. But we know you’re spinning new music – and new music is something you’ve been creating a lot since 2015. A lot of your contemporaries are just happy to spin the hits. What continues to motivate you to make new music?
Howard Jones: As an artist, I have no choice. It’s in me to create new things and always try new things, and that’s what I do. I write songs; I love being in the studio; I sing. And it’s like if you leave that muscle unused, then it stops being strong.
For me, I’m so lucky to have people who have followed me for 40 years. And I almost feel like I owe them to keep producing new music. Although I know this album won’t travel like the first five albums did. That’s not to say they aren’t as good musically or worth hearing. Because I spent as much time there as I would have spent in those early days.
I can’t really stop. I’m always thinking of new songs and new sounds and melodies – and I love doing it. So, I can’t stop, really.
I think that’s what artists are supposed to do, isn’t it, really! (Laughs). Keep on going.
Q: It’s interesting because there’s like, what, five musicians who are still selling albums these days? You basically have to be Taylor Swift, or forget it.
Howard Jones: Yes that’s it. That’s all (laughs).
Q: But for you as an artist and someone creative, is that a better case scenario – not having to worry so much about the commercial end, and making music now just for your fans, for your gigs and for yourself? I mean, is this really the ideal situation?
Howard Jones: Yeah, absolutely. You know, I’m very, very happy. I love making new music.
I mean, when we do the shows, obviously I’ll play the hits because like Paul McCartney – I was listening to him say – you know, if I go to somebody’s show of an artist that I like , I want to hear the songs what I know. And I feel really annoyed if they didn’t play them.
So, yes, I have to build it around (my successes). I’m lucky that we present our music electronically, so I can always improve the sounds and tweak things, and give them a little more contemporary feel, but without making them unrecognizable, of course.
Right now we’re playing some songs from the new album, “Dialogue”, and then I’m playing some songs from “Transform”, which is the latest album.
But I look at the audience, and they go with – you know, they go with it. It’s not all of a sudden there’s a black hole and people get bored, you know, because they don’t know the song. They seem to be a continuation of previous work.
I am always aware of this. You have to take your audience with you. Otherwise, you’re just on an ego trip there. So I’m always sensitive to changing the set if I think it’s not working.
Q: Well, you’ve also received great reviews for your recent albums.
As for “Dialogue”, tell me a bit about how it fits in with “Engage” and “Transform” – and how doesn’t it fit in? How is it different from those albums?
Howard Jones: Yeah, well, it’s part of a set of four. “Engage” is the first; “Transform” then “Dialogue”; the next one will be called “Global Citizen”, which I hope to do next year.
They are all electronic albums, mainly. And what’s different is, with this one, because we’ve all been locked up for so long – not being able to get out; not being able to see anyone – I had a lot of free time in the studio; and I could do a lot of experimentation, which I might not have pursued if I was on a deadline on my part, to finish an album. I just had time to have fun and play in the studio with new sounds. And I got some new synths and I was learning how to do them, and I wanted to play around with the idea that my voice sounded different on a lot of songs – singing or quietly doing a lot of vocoded stuff. And you know, sing higher, do a lot of harmony; great pieces of harmony.
In general, it was like more experimentation and more vocal arrangements, and a lot of time to experiment.
Q: You talked a minute ago about flexing a muscle, as it relates to writing, recording and singing. I wonder about muscle touring. I was reading an interview you did with another outlet, and you said that you hope that when you come out, everything will come back to you – and everything will fall into place. Did you find that to be the case? Have you found that it comes back to you? What was your reaction to your return after the break?
Howard Jones: I still have a feeling of insecurity about, “Oh, will my voice still be there? Will I remember how to do this? Will I be able to speak in public?
You know, if you haven’t in a while, those old anxieties come back. But to be honest, as soon as you walk out and see these lovely people in front of you, everything comes back and falls into place.
And what I’ve been doing lately, I’ve been giving more keyboard parts to my great keyboard players. It frees me up to sing and focus on singing, and focus on 100% audience engagement.
It was a great release for me on this tour. You know, I’m able to step up to the keyboard when I want to add something, or an idea to improvise. But mostly, my guys are taking over roles that I would normally play, and I can just focus on being the leader, which has been really, really good for me.
For more information, visit www.howardjones.com.
Howard Jones, “Dialogue” (album cover courtesy of www.howardjones.com/gun media hired)